With Travis Etienne returning to Clemson for his senior year, what does it all mean for the Clemson offense as we project to the 2020 season.
The Tigers, who lost to LSU in the national championship game this past Monday, already seem to be the favorite to win it all next season in the “Way Too Early Top 25 Polls,” which have been released the last several days. Of course, all of those rankings thought Etienne was going to pro.
Now, with Etienne joining quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Justyn Ross and tight end Braden Galloway, all of sudden Clemson’s offense has the potential to be every bit as explosive as it did this past season.
The Tigers do have to replace four starters up front on the offensive line, but offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell feels good about who will replace Sean Pollard at center, Gage Cervenka at right guard, John Simpson at left guard and Tremayne Anchrum at right tackle. Of course, Jackson Carman will return as the starting left tackle after starting every game there in 2019.
Based off playing time in 2019, it would appear redshirt junior Matt Bockhorst is likely to get the start at left guard, redshirt freshman Hunter Rayburn will likely be the favorite at center, sophomore Will Putnam at right guard and redshirt sophomore Jordan McFadden at right tackle. With the exception of Rayburn, they all got decent playing time as backups in 2019.
With the offensive line basically new, Etienne’s return will benefit them greatly in the passing game. The Jennings, La., native showed a great deal of improvement in pass protection, especially during the College Football Playoff.
Etienne also became a valuable weapon out of the backfield as a pass catcher. He finished third on the team with 37 receptions for 432 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 11.7 yards per carry.
With Etienne’s return, you have to imagine head coach Dabo Swinney promised the running back some more carries. Despite being the ACC Player of the Year for a second straight season, the 5-10, 210-pound running back averaged just 13.8 carries per game in 2019.
The most carries he had all season was 17 against Florida State on Oct. 12.
Etienne finished the 2019 season with 1,614 yards, the second-best single season rushing mark in school history. Only his 1,658 yards in 2018 was better.
He also finished the year with 19 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns. His 23 total touchdowns rank second to his 26 in 2018.
Etienne, who already owns just about every Clemson rushing record in the book, now has opportunity to re-write the record books in the ACC, as well. The Clemson running back is just 565 yards shy of breaking the ACC’s all-time rushing record and 795 yards short of becoming the all-time leader in yards from scrimmage.
He currently has 4,038 yards and is the only Clemson running back to ever eclipse 4,000 rushing yards in a career.
With Etienne back, it will take some of the pressure off Lawrence, who will be anxious to get on the field after his disappointing performance in the national championship game.
Despite what happened in the title game, Lawrence had a very good year. The All-ACC quarterback still threw for 3,665 yards in 2019, while completing 65.8 percent of his passes. He went the last eight games of the season without throwing an interception, while tossing 36 touchdowns altogether.
Lawrence also became more of a runner in 2019, rushing for 563 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry. His best game came in the Fiesta Bowl when he rushed for a career-best 107 yards and scored on a 67-yard touchdown, also a career best, in leading the Tigers back from a 16-0 deficit to win the game.
Ross caught a team-high 66 passes last year for 865 yards and scored eight touchdowns. Amari Rodgers also returns. He was fourth on the team with 30 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns.
The coaches are hopeful Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson can continue to improve, especially with Tee Higgins opting for the NFL, while Diondre Overton has graduated. Galloway showed potential as another weapon in the national championship game when he caught two passes for 60 yards.
Here is a projected offensive lineup for Clemson in 2020
- QB – Trevor Lawrence
- RB – Travis Etienne
- WR – Justyn Ross (boundary)
- WR – Amari Rodgers (slot)
- WR – Joseph Ngata or Frank Landson (field)
- TE – Braden Galloway
- LT – Jackson Carman
- LG – Matt Bockhorst
- C – Hunter Rayburn
- RG – Will Putnam
- RT – Jordan McFadden
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